One of the things that adds to the mental challenge of running is often the prospect of doing it alone, especially in bad weather or when you’ve had a rough day and would rather just flop onto the couch and watch the TV instead. Having a running partner or joining a running club is a great way to get motivated, as you will undoubtedly be expected to show up if you promised you would go out with your exercise buddies. My running partner and I do not live in the same town these days so we meet up for races instead. What he did tell me about recently though is Parkrun, which is a free weekly 5K event open to everybody.
What the Parkrun does for me is to allow me to get in some training on shorter distances than I usually run – 10K and half-marathon – so if I want to use it for speed and race training or fartlek, it’s ideal. But the really great thing about it is that it normally drags in over a hundred runners these days – my local event, down the park 5 minutes away, has only been going for 8 weeks so far, but is looking like it will be a great success. Some of these people are pretty good athletes, and I’m talking about 16-17 minute 5K times; some are parents and toddlers; and some teenagers (boys and girls) showing their dads a thing or two about running! Oh, and there’s me somewhere in there also, and in a field like this it’s good to finish in the first third, rather than tail-ending.
So the benefits are the chance to have a fun run and stretch your legs on a Saturday morning. It’s also a great chance to meet up with like-minded individuals and talk to people from a variety of different running and athletics clubs – there are 32 represented at my local event alone. For those of us who run anyway, it can often be a chance to try out different terrain to what we normally run on, and of course see different scenery. I definitely needed this, as my other routes are fairly boring, and hilly, road runs. This makes a nice three lap jaunt around the newly-refurbished local park a breath of fresh air.
But for people who do not normally go running, Parkrun is a brilliant opportunity to join in with others, to jog or walk for an hour and get fit, or lose weight. With such a diversity of participants, nobody feels uncomfortable being there, and there is a lot of support from volunteers (other runners) who marshal the events. It was definitely fun to watch those 4 year-old “whipper snappers” sprint past me, to loud cheers from the sidelines! I got ’em back though, when they stopped for a nap 50 yards further on.
What Actually Is Parkrun UK
Parkrun in the UK started back in 2004 with a small group of 13 runners who wanted to take part in 5K time trials, and as news spread to other joggers in London, demand grew, as this was (at the time) the only weekly, timed 5K event in the country. Heightened demand led to new groups springing up at different locations, and now appear in parks across the whole of the UK totalling over 90,000 participants.
They all follow the original concept, being mainly community events, where runners are encouraged to race against themselves to improve their times, rather than getting competitive with other runners. This is certainly how I experienced it.
Outside the UK, Parkrun is also on the rise, with several events now up and running in Denmark, and even as far afield as Australia.
The Parkrun Proposition To Runners
First and foremost it is a community-driven initiative, led by volunteers and in the UK it is supported and sponsored by Nike, GSK Lucozade, The London Marathon and Sweatshop. So the most important issue for many is that it is a non-commercial, free event that anybody can just turn up to whenever they want, whatever their ability.
To join in, you just need to register on their website, and they will set you up with a barcode. You will need this barcode with you at each run, as it gets scanned at the end of the run in order to list you on their results webpage along with your time. They also send you an email within a few hours of finishing, telling you your time and position and a few other stats, such as how you compare to others in your age group, etc.
There are points awarded to all participants also, and a league table set up which forms the basis of a competition each year. And there are free running shirts and other gear awarded to juniors (aged under-19) after completing 10 Parkruns, and to everybody older after they complete 50. So that’s a nice touch, to try and get everyone running regularly, rather than just turning up once and then giving it the flick!
So far, I’ve only run in one of these, and posted a fairly average 27:31 time. I’ve done better on other routes, so that’s my challenge now, to keep improving on this fresh new route, and maybe expand my horizons even further by joining a new club.
If you are in one of the participating countries (UK, Denmark and Australia) take a look at the Parkrun website for your nearest event, and get involved. If there isn’t an event in your country, check out the site anyway. If you are community-minded, maybe you and your running buddies can be the ones who introduce the Parkrun phenomenon to your country, and make it the worldwide success it deserves to be.